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TUAW Review: HanDBase for iPhone


Last month TUAW pointed you to a video of a relational database application for iPhone and iPod touch: HanDBase. DDH Software, developers of HandDBase, announced immediate availability of the program in the iTunes App Store.

At US$9.99, HanDBase (click opens iTunes) isn't cheap, but when you consider that it can be used to create custom iPhone database applications to track just about anything in your life, it begins to look like a bargain. HanDBase has been a popular product in the mobile computing space for years, and HanDBase aficionados have uploaded over 2,000 applets (database templates) to the HanDBase applet gallery for free download by other users.

Over the past three weeks, I've been test driving HanDBase for iPhone / iPod touch.

Read on for a full review of the app.

HanDBase is an easy to use relational database system. If I were to compare it to a Mac application, I'd say it's similar to Bento by FileMaker. HanDBase comes with seven applets, but if you don't like those you have a choice of downloading a new applet from the applet gallery or creating one from scratch. The initial gallery (see the first screenshot at right above) contains checkbook, shopping list, customer list, movie list, password keeper, time billing and time billing detail applets.

When I'm teaching Business Analysis classes across the US, I like to keep track of things like the course number, the city, the venue (classroom location), the class I'm teaching, the number of participants, and the start and end dates. Previously, I had to rely on an Excel spreadsheet. I decided to create my own "Instructor Log" database (applet) in HanDBase. Since my needs are so unique, I decided to create a new database from scratch. Tapping on the "Create From Scratch" button (in the screenshot at left below) brings up the Database Properties page at right below.

On this page, you define everything for a new database. General Database Settings is where you create a name for a new database, and set a category if required. You can create your own categories, or use the standard Business, Personal or Unfiled categories.The next button on the Database Properties page is where you define all of the different fields that make up your custom database (see below on left). There are a huge number of field types available: text, integer, floating point number, pop-up list, checkbox, unique, image, date, time, link, linked, note, heading, DB popup, relationship, conditional, and external. I added seven fields (below right); each HanDBase database can have up to 100 fields.

Each type of field has its own specific settings. For example, the screenshot below shows three of the classes that I teach. They'll appear in a popup so that when I need to enter the class information, I tap on the field and a list of the classes appears on the screen. To choose a class type, I just tap on one.

Some of the other properties that are set for a HanDBase database include the field order, which also provides you with a choice of a Quick Search field. You can define views for the data, which are a set of filters, sorts, and field settings. Of course, you may want to have some of your mobile databases password protected or encrypted. That's where security settings (below) come into play. You can set access passwords, set permissions to open, add, edit, or delete data records or databases, Encryption can happen for marked fields when the database or a record is closed, or you can choose to manually encrypt records.

If you're going to be distributing your databases throughout your company, you might want to add your name and release notes to the database file. That's where the Author Information property is used. Finally, you can set options for what to do with the database when it's opened (below).

As you can see below, my database is ready to roll now, and tapping the plus sign on the lower left side of the screen displays an Edit Record page. You can add data, edit popups, and then press the Save button when your work is done. When you click the arrow on the right side of the individual field names, a full data entry screen for that type of field appears.

What do you do once you've captured a lot of data in the field? Or vice-versa, how do you get a lot of information from your Mac or PC to the iPhone. It's simple; just use the desktop software. It's designed to take a .pdb file that is pulled from the iPhone or iPod touch, then open it for editing or further manipulation on the Mac. To grab a database file from the iPhone, you tap on the transfer icon in the lower right hand corner of the iPhone display. This starts up a web server on the iPhone, and a screen shows you the IP address you need to enter into your browser. From the browser, you see a screen similar to the following:

Through this easy web interface you can download the complete database in .pdb format, or as a comma-separated text (.csv) file. You can also add data to any database from a .csv file or upload a HanDBase database you've created on the desktop.

You can also purchase data and sync exchange add-ons for Microsoft Access or ODBC databases, which makes syncing data from an iPhone to a database server a piece of cake.

In summary, HanDBase for iPhone is a very powerful and customizable database. There's really no competition to HanDBase, and given their long history and track record in the handheld world, HanDBase will be adopted quickly in businesses where custom databases are needed. At $9.99, this app is a bargain.

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